EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t able to come up with anything on the court to stop Lamar Odom from having a dominant 19-point, 19-rebound performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. So on Tuesday, he came up with an excuse.
“I’m not giving him no hype,” Stoudemire told reporters before the Suns practiced at Staples Center. “He had a lucky game.”
Among other things, Stoudemire is known for his quotability. In a “Twitterview” with NBA media this week, I asked him how far Cleveland would’ve gone if he’d been traded there instead of Antawn Jamison. True to form, Amar’e came through with a one-word answer: “Championship.”
Beautifully done. He may or may not be right about that. But when it comes to Odom, he’s dead wrong.
And foolish for saying it.
As exhibited in the Lakers’ 128-107 victory in Game 1 Monday night, Kobe Bryant is going to get his numbers in this series. With 40 points – 35 of them by the end of the third quarter – Bryant enjoyed his sixth straight 30-point playoff performance. He seemed to relish the Suns’ strategy of trying defending him with 37-year-old Grant Hill. Bryant called that challenge “enjoyable,” and by that, he meant, “Get this old man away from me before I embarrass him.”
Whether it’s Hill or Jason Richardson or Jared Dudley, the Suns have no one who can check Bryant with any semblance of success. For that reason alone, this is going to be a long series for the Suns – or a short one, depending on how you look at it.
But to a man – including Stoudemire – the Suns have insisted that the key to challenging the Lakers is preventing Bryant’s supporting cast from hurting them. This did not go well in Game 1, with Odom’s monstrous game leading a 44-35 scoring advantage by the Lakers’ suspect bench over the Suns’ reserves, who were supposed to have been a key strength going into the series.
“[Bryant] is gonna score,” Stoudemire said after the game. “That’s one thing he’s gonna do. We know that, so we’ve got to make sure we try to contain him a little bit more. But we’ve got to close out the other guys. We’ve got to do a better job on their role players.”
The two sources of consistent production for the Lakers during their title defense have been Bryant and Pau Gasol. Andrew Bynum has been in and out of the box score. Derek Fisher has made some big shots and has held up better than anyone anticipated against three prolific point guards – Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and now Steve Nash.
But during their run of postseason success in the past five years, Odom’s performance has been a tipping point for the Lakers. When he plays well, the Lakers usually win. When he plays like he did Monday night, the Lakers almost never lose.
With the possible exceptions of Bryant and LeBron James, Odom is as physically gifted as any player who’s come into the league over the past dozen years. It’s often a question of motivation, but there’s no doubting his talent.
“I’ve played with Lamar for a long time, so I wasn’t impressed,” said Ron Artest, who grew up playing with Odom on the playgrounds of Queens, N.Y. and in AAU ball. “I’ve seen him do that all the time.”
So why any opposing player would want to ignite the one area of Odom’s game that is lacking – his motivation – is beyond me. Stoudemire should know better than to rattle Odom’s cage, and he should know better than to say his performance Monday night was an aberration.
The Lakers are 9-2 this season when Odom has 15 or more rebounds, including a 17-point, 19-rebound game against Houston in January and a 10-point, 22-rebound effort against Portland in February – both wins. In his postseason career with the Lakers since the 2005-06 season, the Lakers are 7-2 when Odom has 15 or more rebounds. Four of those nine games have come against the Suns, and Odom scored in double figures in all four, as well. In those games, the Lakers are 2-2.
But even if Stoudemire forgot about those games, surely over the past five years he’s noticed at least a handful of Odom’s 47 games with 15-plus rebounds since he put on a Lakers uniform. If not, maybe he’s seen highlights of one or two of his 174 double-doubles as a Laker. During the same five-year period, Stoudemire has 28 games with 15-plus rebounds and 156 double-doubles. How many of those were luck?
After throttling Stoudemire and the Suns’ supposedly improved defense in Game 1, Odom wouldn’t engage him in a war of words Tuesday.
“I’m not gonna do that,” Odom said. “Not when it comes to basketball.”
As for his performance, Odom said, “It was good. Could be better. Hopefully I can have another lucky one.”